If you have been on the Ignatius Press mailing list, you cannot have missed their promotion of Abby Johnson’s new book “un-Planned”. Yesterday, the online edition of Catholic San Francisco was running this story: Former Planned Parenthood Director to convert to Catholicism.
From that story:
Abby Johnson, 30, who will speak at the 11 a.m. Walk for Life West Coast rally in San Francisco Jan. 22, is preparing with her husband Doug to enter the Catholic Church in her native Texas within the next few months. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter.
“When we went to the Catholic Church for the first time we knew that was where we were supposed to be and we have been there ever since,” said Johnson, who said she particularly loves the church’s reverence for Mary as the mother of God. “The more we started learning about the beliefs of the church and the Eucharist and everything, it seemed like this was what had been missing our whole lives.”
After eight years as a Planned Parenthood volunteer and employee, Johnson walked away from her job as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan/College Station, Texas, Oct. 6, 2009 during a prayer vigil by 40 Days for Life. Johnson, who had two abortions at 20 and at 23, first began working as a clinic escort while a student at Texas A&M University. Assisting with an ultrasound during an abortion in September 2009 turned her into a pro-life advocate.
Johnson’s embrace of Catholicism was a natural development after she became pro-life but was precipitated by her pro-choice Episcopalian community’s vocal rejection of her change of heart, she said. Even before the dramatic experience of assisting in an ultrasound abortion, Johnson said God had been calling to her for several months through the penitential rite of the Episcopal service, which is similar to the Catholic prayer. With the Episcopalian Church one of the largest donors to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Johnson said she and her husband were not going to remain at the church anyway.
But, like me when I realised that in conscience I had no choice but to seek communion with the Catholic Church, there is a problem:
Johnson is in the process of obtaining an annulment of the marriage to the man who was her husband at the time she had her abortions, so that she and her husband Doug can convalidate their marriage and enter the church. “We are ready to come into the church as soon as we are able,” Johnson said.
I know from personal experience what this “soon as we are able” means. It means a long wait with no certainty of the outcome. Annulments are not “church divorces” – you don’t get one just because you apply for one. And in the case of converts, this means you may be facing a situation where you meet a road-block in your earnest desire to enter the Catholic Church. There are alternatives, of course. If it turns out that the Church says your first marriage was valid, the Church is effectively calling you to repentance and to a life of sexual celibacy within your second marriage. Not an easy call.
I thank God that I didn’t have to face this decision. If I had, I think I would have been caught in a half-way house, because I don’t think I could have – or indeed would have – embraced such a call to celibacy. Not just because of my own desires – in fact least of all for that reason – but also because of the pledge I made to my wife when I married her. Yet I would not have turned away from the Catholic Church. I would have chosen to live like one the Catechumens in the early Church, fully participating in the life of the Church but without the benefit of the sacraments.
Of course, a major difference between the divorced and remarried Christian convert seeking communion with the Catholic Church is that they have already been baptised, and this sacramental character and grace would have been what I would have had to rely upon in my Christian life. Of course, that is still true today, even though I have had the grace of completing Confirmation, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist since. It is in fact an irony that the it is because the Catholic Church recognises Christian baptism performed in ecclesiastical communities not in full communion with her that former marriages celebrated in these Churches between baptised Christians require annulment. Things would be easier – but wrong – if we were like some Orthodox communties that do not recognise baptism performed “outside the Church” (as they call it).